G. W. Pabst is one of the few cinematic geniuses... The range and diversity of his films are enormous, from studies in war to psycho-analytical case histories... 'Westfront' is a stark, impressive film, with a plot somewhat similar to Lewis Milestone's 'All Quiet on the Western Front'... The film follows the existence of four ordinary soldiers fighting on the French front during the last months of the war... Between them, they experience love, infidelity, insanity, and, ultimately, death... They are the innocent and helpless victims of a grotesque stupidity, and the poignancy of their predicament is emphasized rather than diminished by Pabst's austere approach and the film's pervading atmosphere of pessimism... Pabst's intention is to remove all hints of glory and romance from war... Again and again certain motifs reappear in the film: the trenches, the barren stretch of land in front of the German lines, torn and removed, decorated with barbed wire, and shrouded in smoke and fog... By the process of repetition of the same scene (dialog is kept to a minimum and there is effective use of natural sounds) Pabst conveys the muddy chaos and monotony, but, above all, the isolation and deadliness... In one impressive scene the fog slowly dissolves, and in direct proportion to its rate of dissolution, hope rises of breaking out of the claustrophobic fear that the men (and now the audience) feel, until the spiritual elation caused by that prospect is shattered as we see that they are confronted by row upon row of tanks, steel monsters bearing fire and destruction... 'Westfront' is, as the French film historians, Maurice Bardèche et Robert Brasillach have described it, a 'sombre and hopeless picture of war.'
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A group of German solders fight on the front line in France at the end of World War I.
September 11, 2020